Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Korean Criers

Here's the question:
I'm new to the Korean teaching scene, but I'm not a new teacher. I taught fourth grade in the US for a few years and did my training in a third grade class. I've been teaching in a public school for couple months now and am shocked by how much these children cry. I don't think I'm tough on them. Is it me or them?
It's them.

Korean school children have been ruined by the repressive culture and by their over-zealous parents. I'm quite confident that Korea is about to face an entire generation of whiners, quitters and criers. 

Always remember, Koreans typically react to embarrassment in three ways: anger, laughter or tears.


The question is related to tears, so let's discuss that. Korean culture is obsessed with academic competition, appearances and maintenance of structural social relationships. We all know that already, but these traits are directly related to the thin-skinned behavior witnessed by children (and adults).

Classroom competition is not always bad. People all over the world strive to excel in the classroom. However, that classroom competition is usually coupled with athletic competition or some sort of extra-curricular competition. When competition is limited to the classroom it tends to be diminished to numbers and bragging rights. The success is not shared with others and it's not celebrated publicly. Furthermore, it's commonly viewed (among students) that students who participate a lot in class are not doing so because they know the answer, but rather because they're showing off their talent. Being outwardly expressive or arrogant is a clear social faux-pas, so even the best students might choose to remain silent.

An English class is different from normal classes, though. Students are forced encouraged to speak and express themselves. They don't like this. Students are not used to being called on and they don't like being singled out. When an English teacher singles out a student and makes them answer a question, it puts pressure on that student. Sounds normal to Western students, but this situation can only end two ways in Korea: you get the answer correctly and sit back down quietly or you get it wrong and suffer the loss of face. 

Some students are so used to getting the answer wrong that they don't care anymore, but others are so accustomed to being the best, that something as simple as using the wrong tense can bring them to tears. This is pathetic, but the result of an overemphasis on educational competition and an extension of Korea's crippling obsession with face.

As a teacher you have a few options. 

1) You could ignore the criers and hope that they mature past this stage. 

2) You can accept this reality and protect students from failing.


3) You can try to be the revolutionary teacher who taught students that failure is a part of life and that it's okay to fail every once and awhile.

None of them are great options. I think accepting it would be the best, but protecting them from failure is what led us to this problem.  Parents want to coddle their only-child so much that any discomfort results in a tantrum.

So, I must give the advice that I have given many times before: You know the rules, now play the game.



23 comments:

Chris in South Korea said...

You have to remember what they're still kids - they've learned behaviors that have gotten them what they want. More than a few kids are spoiled beyond belief - and know if they cry, they get their way. It's the same way across the world.

The most effective solution has been to either hand them off to a Korean co-teacher for consolation, or let them take a break while the rest of the class keeps working. When they're 'better', ease them into the work they're now behind on.

bnz said...

Why is it revolutionary to tell the kids to fail once in a while? Will it be a problem with the parents? I'm not a teacher, but i'm just curious.

조안나 said...

I haven't had much of a crying problem in my year and a half of teaching elementary students. When I do have a crier, unless it's for a serious reason, I just tend to ignore it. They eventually cheer up.

Logan Row said...

I think there are several issues at play here.

One, ESL teachers in Korea are overwhelmingly young, inexperienced, and (at least mildly) privileged. Because of this, they’re likely to be shocked by ANY reaction the students have.

Two, it’s only those rare birds that actually learn to communicate effectively in Korean. And, a great majority of the rest (their insistence to the contrary notwithstanding) have had limited contact with Koreans and Korean culture. These language and cultural barriers are likely to frustrate both the student and the teacher. I’ve seen many an “English Teacher” cry; I’m not surprised their pre-pubescent students express their dissatisfaction in this way as well.

Three (and since the questioner is at a Public School she/he may be unaware of this fact), Korean students spend a ridiculous amount of time at and in school. I shudder to think how an American student would react in similar circumstances.

david said...

Expat,
I think you are putting too much thoughts into culture for a 3rd or 4th grade students. Being fustrated is not exclusively a Korean trait. Just relax a bit expat

The Expat said...

So what, students aren't part of the culture?

Roboseyo said...

I found that by completely ignoring the crying child while they cried, they generally stopped soon enough - paying attention to a crying child reinforces the behavior as a viable way to get the teacher's attention. If other students got worked up about it, I'd stay cool: "Teacher! Amy's crying!" "I know. She'll stop soon." After the kid stopped crying, I'd gently talk to them about it, and once I knew the kids well enough, I'd be able to spot the warning signs and ward off the tears with an encouraging word or a bit of help, or even asking another student to help him/her out.

After a while, my kids knew crying wouldn't get my attention, and students only cried when they were genuinely upset.

David said...

Of course students are part of the culture but for a 9 or 10 year old to be fully ingrained in a culture is a bit advanced. What I am saying is that you may be over analyzing.

JesseniaT_Orndorff1021 said...

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Foreigner Joy said...

I would like to note the teaching method here. You mentioned calling on Students singularly to answer a question and how this causes embarrassment. We could think of ways to get class participation that doesn't single out a student but also gets them speaking.

Group participation is one way. Having a group discuss something than one person in the group is picked as the leader (the confident one).

Calling on Students individually could be done by calling a number randomly. THey are assigned class numbers and this way they won't feel so picked on. I do this and then tell the student to call a number, which is usually their friend who will understand the game.

Having the students pass a ball and then the teacher yells STOP and whoever has the ball has to speak an answer.

By making it fun and that anyone could end up being picked on makes kids realize they are all in the same boat.

Adding activities which include partner work (practicing a dialog or game with one other person) is helpful so they aren't projecting to the class but to a friend / classmate.

As for crying children they are using crying as a way to get attention. So yes don't give them attention. If it is a serious problem come up with a class management system to reward the non-criers so they will see that being calm about things is good.

:)

鈺禎 said...

不勞而獲的事情,並沒有價值......................................................

家銘 said...

人是受想像力所支配的。........................................

婉耿賢耿賢亞 said...

如果擬任為輸贏是最重要的事,那你輸了........................................

Foreigner Using Chopsticks said...

When my 3rd graders had one of their first English classes, we gave them a board game to practice with.

This is what happened.

P1: Rolls a six. 아사!!!
P2: Rolls a five. Lands on "go back to start".
*Immediately* starts bawling his eyes out.

I really struggled to keep a straight face with that one. But they are just little children. I'm hoping that by the end of semester, we will be able to get through a whole activity without anyone crying.

0308MathewP_Thurlow said...

人有兩眼一舌,是為了觀察倍於說話的緣故。...............................................................

said...

Efforts to fight fuel!........................................................

麗娟麗娟 said...

向著星球長驅直進的人,反比踟躕在峽路上的人,更容易達到目的。..................................................

MauriceBaumer志能 said...

沒有友情,人生何樂?........................................

致遠致遠 said...

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........................................

張孟勳 said...

you always know the right thing to say!............................................................

韻枝 said...

一個人最大的敵人常是自己。 ............................................................

禎峰 said...

謝謝你的分享,祝你生活永遠多彩多姿!.................................................................

Nadia said...

I just started teaching a couple of weeks ago, and I already know who the tear-shedders are. One girl was winning a game, then a boy beat her at one question. She was still many points ahead of him, but she started crying. I didn't know what to do, so I ignored her. She angrily put all her books away, but when she saw that I was moving on to the next exercise, her tears slowed down and she took her books back out.